Ground Rules

This column, LBWA (Leadership By Wandering Around), is based on the premise that, in order to find out what’s going on in the field, a parks and rec leader has to leave his or her desk and “wander around” the area of operations, talk to people, ask questions, and kick around ideas with the individuals in the thick of delivering services to the public.  So the author will bring up issues that may be common to many PRB readers, and ask the readers who are the leaders to weigh in and share their knowledge and experiences. 

There are several kinds of playground surfacing to choose from. Photo courtesy of Randy Gaddo

While facility-maintenance managers around the world could probably have extended and animated discussions about what the best surface is for a playground, the truth is there is no right or wrong answer.

According to the The Dirty Dozen–12 Playground Hazards, the number-one hazard on playgrounds is improper protective surfacing.

Each year, more than 200,000 injuries and 15 deaths occur in playground accidents.

Playgrounds are one of the most heavily used–and often abused–facilities that maintenance managers have in their inventory, and the type of surface used will determine how much attention is needed.

Surfaces run the gamut from sand to poured-in-place rubber; what’s considered the “best” depends on circumstances.

What Works

The National Playground Safety Institute’s eight-page pamphlet lists the following materials as acceptable for playground surfaces:

 

  • Engineered wood fiber
  • Wood chips
  • Sand/pea gravel
  • Synthetic/rubber tiles
  • Shredded rubber
  • Rubber mats
  • Poured-in-place rubber.

The pamphlet’s findings emphasize that most loose-fill surfacing should be maintained at a depth of 12 inches and be free of standing water and debris.

Black-listed is blacktop or asphalt, concrete, packed earth or grass; carpets or mats are also not appropriate unless they are tested and comply with American Society for Testing and Materials standards.

“It depends, of course, on your budget, but it also is dependent on the environment your playground will be in,” says Scott Christopher, CPRP, a parks and recreation and facilities manager in Georgia with more than 20 years experience in the field, including as a certified playground safety instructor.

“For example, if your playground is in a low-lying area that holds moisture, a wood fiber-based product may not be the best option for your project because it will tend to hold water and possibly wash away.”

The right surface can make playground play safer. Photo courtesy of Randy Gaddo

Christopher points out that some products can be inexpensive initially, but can add up over time.

“Some types of surfacing can easily be kicked out of the safety zones frequently, and having someone on hand to constantly put it back in place or replenish it can be labor- and cost-intensive,” he says, before adding that this is an especially important consideration in today’s economy.

Christopher emphasizes that safety should always be the number-one priority and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) agrees.

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